A massive experience is all about timing

Thursday, July 10 2014


We humans have an illustrious history of inventing things – often big, sometimes massive. Sky scrapers, oil tankers and man-made islands even. Along the way, we have also come to accept that big ideas tend to create big challenges.

In the online gaming world, being massive isn’t necessarily the main challenge in itself (it is, after all THE raison d’être of online games). The real challenge lies in the journey to become massive and critically, the short period of time it takes to get there. To put it another way, a nuclear bomb creates enormous amounts of uncontainable energy but a megaton nuclear blast is much easier to deal with if the whole process is slowed down and the energy dissipated at a more leisurely pace (i.e. within a nuclear reactor). In other words, being big isn’t necessarily a problem if you have the time to manage it.

Our online world serves as a powerful catalyst for ideas and creativity, effectively re-defining some well-established concepts of time and space. Speed and agility are all good but they also remove the luxury of time – time to reflect and time to manage. In a keynote last year at Nordic Game, David Helgason of Unity Technologies compared the ‘half-life’, as he put it, of various conventional and digital entertainment media and concluded that the ‘half-life’ of mobile games is somewhere between 6 months to 2 years, compared with 10-100 years for recorded music.

A short half-life is a double-edged sword though. Games get massive quickly but they also tend to pale into insignificance at an equally alarming rate.

There are exceptions of course. 30 years ago, in 1984, Alan Sugar launched the Amstrad CPC464 personal computer to the masses and at about the same time, the world’s first space trading game was created by David Braben and Ian Bell. Most CPC464s have long since been consigned to an eternity as landfill and the ingeniously simple wire frame 3D graphics of Elite have been surpassed by light years of game development (it is worth noting that the original BBC Micro version of the game was 22KB, or roughly the size of an email).

I had the pleasure of meeting David at Nordic Game this year after his keynote and he even came over to our stand to inspect our demonstration of a surviving CPC464 running an original version of Elite. Loaded on cassette tape and still going strong – it seems there are even people still around who can play it.

When Elite was first developed, it was distributed by post. It was a Massive game, without the network. The latest incarnation of the game is an MMO and despite some clever engineering to reduce sensitivity to network lag, it will still need a great network to thrive.
Online games breath Mb/s and just as an explosion sucks the air from its surroundings, a massive game needs a massive network to achieve the biggest impact and secure the best possible experience.

I’m really looking forward to Gamescom 2014 in Cologne this year, especially for the chance to experience some truly massive games along with the other 300,000+ visitors that are expected to attend. We will be there of course with a stand in the trade area and hope to demo some classic games of the past on our trusty 1984 Amstrad PC.

Just as George Orwell didn’t really predict 1984 in 1948, we can only fantasize about how things will be in 2041 but Gamescom will at least give us some clues about the great things ahead and how we can help them go massive.